Rodents are more like us than we may – or may want to – realize.

Like us, they need food, water and shelter to survive. And like us, warm shelter becomes particularly important during the cold months.

These pests are often untamed, but they can live alongside people and exploit their resources if given a chance. In fact, some mice that take shelter inside due to weather will never leave and will permanently become indoor mice.

To rodents, food processing facilities look like a five-star hotel, the perfect place to spend the winter. The plethora of food sources, numerous potential entry points and hiding places in your facility can all be perfect amenities for rodents, which can in turn lead to an infestation.

Rats and mice can contaminate your food products and ingredients – they can carry hundreds of pathogens and transmit deadly diseases like lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome – and slice your food safety audit scores. Ticks, mites and fleas can feed on infected rodents and then can transmit diseases like pox, plague and typhus indirectly to humans, putting employees in your facility at risk.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can help prevent these serious problems rodents pose. Proactive facility maintenance, sanitation, rigorous inspections and exclusion practices can help keep rats and mice out of your facility – and your products. Work with a pest management professional to implement a custom Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for your facility, and follow these guidelines to shut rodents out in the cold this winter.

Signs of Rodent Activity

Rodents may linger mostly out of sight, but they aren’t stealthy pests – they leave calling cards wherever they travel. Knowing the signs of rodent activity can help you stop an infestation before it starts.

-Droppings – Mouse droppings are pointed and about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings are about the size and shape of a raisin.
Gnaw marks – Rodents will gnaw on wires – this can cause electrical fires – as well as sealant, wood and other hard materials. Rodents can enlarge an opening such as a conduit or pipe penetration by gnawing around the edges, so closely inspect any areas in the building that appear to be chewed or gnawed.

-Rub markings – Rodents don’t like to travel in the open, so they will brush up against walls, wiring or pipes as they travel along a path, leaving greasy markings behind.

Train your employees – some pest management providers will train employees at no extra cost – to look for these signs of rodent activity, and make sure to contact your pest management professional immediately if signs of rodent activity are reported.

The Fight Begins Outside

Rodents have plenty of reasons to sneak into your facility, and they don’t need much of an opening to do so. Rats can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter, and mice can squeeze through holes the size of a dime. That’s why exclusion is paramount.

-Seal cracks and crevices – Regularly inspect the exterior of your facility for any cracks that may develop. Pay close attention to openings that can form around pipes. Seal any holes in exterior walls with water-resistant sealant and steel or copper mesh.

-Close the perimeter – Keep trash handling areas free of clutter, and clean up any uncovered garbage or standing water outside. Rodents may burrow or live up to 100 yards away from your structure, so your pest management professional should assess the area surrounding your property. Also, ask your waste management company to clean and switch your dumpsters regularly. Ask them to monitor for leakage underneath the dumpster that should be cleared as well.

-Keep landscaping tidy – Keep trees trimmed and plants at least 12 inches from your building, and rake up leaves quickly so that rodents cannot use them for cover. As an extra step, consider installing a 2-foot wide gravel strip around the perimeter of the building.

-Mind roof attractants – HVAC units are a common culprit for providing pests with water, so be sure that facility maintenance staff conducts regular inspections of these areas, eliminating any potential penetration points. Inspect locations where water often accumulates, including on top of, behind and underneath the units, as well as other hard-to-reach places.

Work with your pest management provider to place tamper-resistant bait stations around the exterior of the facility. Rodents will feed on the non-toxic bait, which helps indicate activity. Baiting can begin with using a non-toxic bait and then be switched to a toxic one if deemed necessary by your pest management provider. Be sure to maintain an up-to-date map and activity report for the bait stations so you can determine the source of rodent pressure and target future treatments accordingly.

Eliminate Inside Incentives

Another way to help keep rodents from getting inside your facility is removing incentives for them to go inside in the first place.

Keep your shipping and receiving doors closed as often as possible, and use a UV black light to inspect incoming shipments for pest evidence.

Remind your employees to keep food stored in the break room refrigerator in plastic containers and to clean out lockers regularly. Keep break rooms, locker rooms and kitchen areas clean – even a few crumbs can provide food for rodents.

Clean drains and equipment with an organic cleaner to eliminate the residue that pests can feed on. Monitor for spills and leaks, and clean and repair them immediately – pests only need a small amount of food and moisture to survive.

Talk with your pest management professional about these steps and other tactics you can put in place to keep your facility safe against overwintering pests and relegate rodents to the cold.